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Students explore career choices through education consortium

| Sunday, June 5, 2005

What do you want to be when you grow up?

Whether 9 years old or 90, most people have been asked that question at one time or another. A program of the Mon Valley Education Consortium is designed to help local students to find the answer.

Aimee D. LeFevers, director of "The Future is Mine," explained its conception.

"It was an idea of Linda Croushore and Steve Seliy," who are the consortium's executive director and associate executive director, respectively. "Linda had been working with about 25 school districts for 15 years, and it became apparent that there was a disconnect between schooling and employment."

LeFevers came to MVEC after having taught for five years in Los Angeles and having worked with impoverished schools.

"I answered an ad about a new program to make teaching more authentic -- more connected to real life. We try to help the kids to find what they're passionate about and get them together with people who do that," LeFevers said.

Aimed at students in grades nine through 12, "The Future is Mine" has evolved over the past five years and now comprises a three-part program through the school year with a conference as the high point where everything comes together.

In the first part, the "peer-to-professional" project, each student interviews a professional involved in a field the student finds appealing. In the second, the "peer-to-younger-peer" project, the students conduct a presentation to students in earlier grades, demonstrating what they have learned from their research. In the third, the "peer-to-peer" project, they make another presentation to students their own age.

About a dozen students are involved in "The Future is Mine" at California Area High School. In the school year now ending, Emily Dowler, freshman class secretary, explored elementary teaching. After interviewing a math teacher in December for her "peer-to-professional" project, Dowler and the other students conducted a career fair for the eighth-grade students in March as their "peer-to-younger-peer" project.

"I made a display board about my career, elementary teaching. I pasted information on my board, like what salary you might get, where you would want to go to college and what classes you might want to take in high school."

Each student set up a station in the cafeteria, where they gave a two-minute talk to the eighth-graders, in groups of about four each.

"I gave my talk about 10 times, I think," Dowler said.

Finally, as their "peer-to-peer" project, the students gave a presentation on WCAL, their high school's TV station, the week before the Student Leadership Conference at the end of April.

"The conference has really become the kids' conference," noted LeFevers. "They do a lot of the planning and organizing."

The two-day event drew about 250 students to the Pittsburgh Marriott City Center where they organized and strategized, watched a film presentation, visited local businesses, gave their own presentations and got to know students from different schools.

The film presentation, the first day of the conference, was given by Mike Marriner, of Roadtrip Nation, one of three college friends whose exploration of different careers all across the country has spawned a series of books and a recurring documentary series on PBS.

"We discovered Roadtrip Nation two years ago," said LeFevers. "A partner of ours had heard of them at a conference, and we said, 'They're doing what we are.' They have had an amazing impact on the students. And we have pretty much just told them they have to come to the conference every year."

The next morning found the students in groups at different businesses in the Pittsburgh area.

Jessyca Floyd, a senior at Monessen High School, has been participating in the program for four years. This year's conference was the second she was able to attend. In her sophomore year, she went to Seagate, a computer disk-drive manufacturer; this year, to LANXESS, a chemical, plastic and rubber conglomerate formed recently from two Bayer subsidiaries.

"This year's site was a lot more interesting," Floyd said. "I guess I liked it more because TFIM helps to prepare you for the future, so I took it a lot more seriously than I did in 10th grade."

Dowler got to go behind the scenes at the Marriott while her classmate Kourtney Doman, freshman class treasurer, visited the Carnegie Museum of Art. There, her group got to meet some of the staff and see a demonstration of painting restoration.

"We went into a closed-off area," she said, "where no one is allowed to go. We saw how they use light to find wrinkles and cracks. And you can't see them until they shine the light."

Students from Brownsville Area High School had a special connection with Marriner. Their own mini-roadtrip this school year is featured in the latest Roadtrip Nation book, Finding the Open Road. According to their adviser, Lynn Jellots, the 15 students from Brownsville interviewed 84 Lumber's Joe Hardy, an executive chef and a supervising park ranger.

Jellots has been involved in "The Future is Mine" for five years. "More and more kids want to get into it. We used to have to ask them to participate," she said. "Now, we have a waiting list."

Though the program involves participation throughout the school year, and encourages the students to plan for a future they can be passionate about, the annual conference itself is a celebration that leaves a lasting impression.

"It's a lot of fun," Doman said. "I like to meet all the people. A lot of them are really cool. And some of them, you'll only have to know them for two days, but you feel as if you've known them forever."

The Mon Valley Education Consortium has a Web site at www.mvec.org.

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